Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

“The reality is there is absolutely not enough,” said Andreas Wieland, the chief executive of Hamilton Medical in Switzerland, a leading ventilator maker.

  • There are about 160,000 ventilators in U.S. hospitals, with another 12,700 in a stockpile the federal government keeps for national emergencies.

  • A new machine can cost up to $50,000. Fewer than a dozen American companies make them; about half of those used in the U.S. are imported.

  • One Italian company quadrupled its output, making up to 150 ventilators a week, with help from engineers and other workers from the Ministry of Defense.

  • Britain expects to need many more than the 5,000 ventilators it has. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is calling on carmakers to start making them.

More shortages: In the U.S., detecting the disease is hampered by extremely short supplies of swabs and protective gear. The special swabs needed for testing come mainly from an Italian company that is working around the clock.

What’s next: President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law allowing him to order American factories to boost production of critical supplies like ventilators and masks.

People over 60 are at elevated risk of serious illness from the coronavirus, and it’s even more severe for people over 80. So older people have to be especially cautious — which can mean cutting off from family, friends and communities.

“It is a terrible irony of the virus that, for older adults, steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19 increase the risks of social isolation, which carries its own devastating health effects,” our reporter John Leland writes.

Since this newsletter began, we’ve asked readers to tell us how they’re coping with the outbreak. Here are a few responses we’ve received from older Americans about how the virus has changed their lives.

Midge Cooke lives in a continuing care facility in Mechanicsville, Va. She writes:

Over 80 residents are under quarantine — so far no one has tested positive, but no one has been tested that we know of. The pandemic feels something like I felt when we were flying home from Europe on 9/11. Weird. We don’t know when the next shoe will drop. I take walks and hope I see someone to just say “Hello” and “How are you coping?” Social interaction is one of my lifelines.

Aurelia Marvin of Jasper, Ga., writes:

I have M.S. and so have an extremely compromised immune system. My husband is elderly as well. We’re not leaving the house unless it’s absolutely necessary. But we are afraid to go to any medical facilities for fear of catching something there! We are very scared and frankly are worried for anyone in the area that is elderly and being forced to stay in their homes during this crisis.

And finally, from Susan Stull of Canton, Pa.:

My husband and I are elderly and both are compromised with several things including his metastatic cancer. As the lay-leader of our church, I have been in contact with half of the members on almost a daily basis about social distancing. It is so much easier to care about the flock than to worry about ourselves. And it helps with the isolation. We can all take the time to call someone each day and check up on them.

How to get through it: We asked the C.D.C., W.H.O. and doctors for advice. They recommend learning to use video chat programs like Skype or FaceTime, going for walks outside and stockpiling a few months’ worth of prescription medicine.

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